Jack Kelly’s Let’s Twist Again

Let’s Twist Again….

But first an apology for breaking the promise I made at the end of my last article that Sports Physiologist Simon Breivick and I would look in more detail at time management in the light of the physiological implications of trampoline work and rest. This will indeed appear in a future edition but in the meantime Let’s Twist Again…… like we did last February! GymCraft Issue 19 to be precise, when I tried to convince you all that “The Twist is the Easy Bit.” You may find it helpful to reread that article in conjunction with what follows.

Relative merits of early twist

I intend to discuss some of the relative merits of twisting early (initiated during the contact phase) and twisting late (initiated during the airborne phase). This will not be an explanation of the biomechanical or technical factors but rather an examination of the rationale for using one method or the other. The skilful performer can often disguise where and when their twist is initiated and create the optical illusion that it suddenly happened in mid flight, when in fact it may have been initiated during bed contact. The efficiency of the twist depends on the body shape and the correct amount of somersault rotation which, in the case of simple jumps means none at all (see issue 19).

Fig 1

Aerial twists are possible with or without the aid of somersault rotation but the technique required for their production is laborious and time consuming for anything beyond a half twist, It involves the classic “swivel hips” action as shown in Fig 1.

Technically possible

Whilst it is technically possible to perform this action three times in the same straight jump in order to produce a jump with one and a half twists, the gymnast would be hard pushed to complete the actions before striking the bed again. Furthermore, in terms of aesthetics, the piking, extending and twisting process, whilst technically skilful, will be ungainly and rushed. By far the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing method of producing a straight jump with twist is to initiate the twist during bed contact as this involves keeping the body in a straight line during both the initiation and flight phases.

Fig 2

We can see the same in moves like backdrop half twist to front drop (Fig 2) and seat drop half twist to front drop. These can be performed with aerial initiation involving piking, extending and twisting or by means of bed initiation where the body is held straight throughout. To turn these half twisting moves into a cat twist or roller respectively, would involve performing the aerial manoeuvre twice before resuming bed contact with the same disadvantages that were highlighted in respect of the twisting jump. My first conclusion therefore is that where no somersault rotation is involved, use the bed initiated mode of twisting.

Aerial twist

Let us stay with basic skills but introduce an element of somersault rotation as we might see in feet half twist to back drop. Here we are introducing only 90 degrees of somersault which will make the aerial twisting process easier to perform but still does not allow enough time to execute multiples of a half twist without the cumbersome pike extend/twist pike extend/twist procedure.

Likewise, half twist to front drop involves 90 degrees of somersault which will help to enable an aerial twist but without the help of some bed initiated twist, a full twist to back drop would be hard to achieve. lt is at this stage of learning that the coach faces a dilemma which can have implications for their gymnast’s progress to higher tariff moves.

Picking the best way to twist

A gifted performer may well find their own way having been asked (with all safety measures in place) to ”Try to half twist onto your back.” The majority are likely to choose the familiar contact twist method they used for half twist jump but it is at this point the coach must have an eye to the future. In my experience, the pattern of movement associated with the early half twist to back drop can resurface during the learning of barani ball out causing some alarm to coach and gymnast alike!

It is for this reason that I would choose to teach the aerial or late half twist to backdrop. This is not simply a defensive strategy, as the feeling of delay prior to creating the air twist is very similar to the experience of waiting to twist in the barani ball out. Furthermore the principle of (somersault/see the bed/twist) is one which must be established early if the gymnast is to make sound progress to half out and rudi-out fliffus.

Interesting contrast

The half twist to front drop presents an interesting contrast although initial ”have a go” attempts onto a landing mat are, like the half twist to back, likely to feature an early twist. The coach with a clear vision of the how the move relates to the full twisting back somersault and all the backward fliffs, will make sure that the appropriate pattern of movement is established at this point.

This indicates that the twist should be created during bed contact and the body held straight throughout. The early twisting action also enables the performer to have a full view of the bed throughout the movement which has a high significance for safety, orientation and the timing of subsequent actions.

Early twist issues

Having said all that let me examine some of the issues around using an early twist for the half twist to front drop. My recommendation assumes that the gymnast will perform the early twist with a high degree of subtlety and prioritise the somersault rotation rather than turning so early as to inhibit rotation and finish diagonally across the bed. Although I stated earlier that I would not discuss technique, the question of balancing somersault and twist inputs must now be considered as this is a major consideration with bed initiated twist.

Contrasting actions

Have you ever tried the old challenge of patting the top of your head whilst rubbing your belly with a circular motion? This is a classic example of trying to do two contrasting actions at the same time, very similar to creating somersault and twist simultaneously!

Now try this. Change the speed of one action whilst keeping the other the same e.g. Increase the speed at which you perform the circular motion on your belly whilst keeping the patting tempo the same. That’s a little more challenging is it not?

So when we perform the half twist to front drop we need to apply sufficient turning force around the somersault axis whilst minimising the force around the twist axis. This challenge becomes even greater as we develop towards half twist to crash dive, full twisting back and all the backward fliffs where the somersault element increases even more.

Ironically as the somersault element increases the amount of twisting force does not simply remain the same but if anything needs to be reduced.

Now we get into a very contentious area where the debate about early and late twist hots up.

Strong case for aerial twist

Whilst most coaches would agree that half twist to front drop requires an early but subtle twisting action, when the somersault element increases with the development of half twist to crash dive there is a strong case to be made for employing an aerial twist. The debate intensifies as we progress to full twisting back and half in half out with two distinct camps, the early and the late twisters.

The biomechanists tell us that from the full twisting back right up to the Miller and beyond there is no need to employ any twisting action whilst in contact. lndeed slow motion analysis proves that a number of the world’s best are indeed following this course thereby maximising the direction, speed and quality of their somersaults untainted by extraneous twisting motion during bed contact. I make no apology for repeating the video sequence of China’s Ye Shuai rising out of the bed for a piked half in half out with absolutely no evidence of contact twist (Fig 3).

Fig 3


During my years of coach education work I found most trainee coaches anxious to be given the precise recipe for all occasions but the foregoing highlights that coaches must exercise judgement based on an understanding of the long term implications of the decision taken. The purpose of this article has been to show that there is ”more than one way to skin a cat” and the ambitious coach must consider whether the course of action taken is going to be in the best long term interests of the gymnast.

In a future article I will return to the pros and cons of the early twist/late twist debate as we examine the merits of the various ways for teaching the full twisting back somersault.

Next article.

© Jack Kelly